Review: Who Gives a Poop?

Who Gives a Poop cover

Who Gives a Poop?
Surprising Science from One End to the OtherWho Gives a Poop?

By: Heather L. Montgomery, Illustrator: Iris Gottlieb
Bloomsbury Children’s Books/October 13, 2020
Ages 10-14, 192 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

This uniquely crafted narrative nonfiction invites readers to follow the author into science labs, forests, hospitals, and landfills, as the author asks:

Who uses poo?

Poop is disgusting, but it’s also packed with potential. One scientist spent months training a dog to track dung to better understand elephant birthing patterns. Another discovered that mastodon poop years ago is the reason we enjoy pumpkin pie today. And every week, some folks deliver their own poop to medical facilities, where it is swirled, separated, and shipped off to a hospital to be transplanted into another human. There’s even a train full of human poop sludge that’s stuck without a home in Alabama.

This irreverent and engaging book shows that poop isn’t just waste-and that dealing with it responsibly is our duty.

Here’s what reviewers have said:

⭐  “A well-stirred slurry of facts and fun for strong-stomached “poop sleuths.””  —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
⭐  “Feces have lots of great stories to tell… .” —BCCB (starred review)

And here are my thoughts:

OK, I have to confess: I had so much fun reading Who Gives a Poop?! Reading this book felt like I was walking through the woods on an exciting adventure with a trusted friend. The author’s voice is unfailingly authentic, and each chapter contains a ton of real science alongside genuine human emotion and just the right amount of humor. I think what I loved most about it, however, is how her passion for science and her reverence for curiosity comes through. She’s not afraid to ask questions, and she takes us along on her research trips to get those questions answered, as well as giving us an up-close view of her hands-on observations.

Even if you think you know all you need (or want) to know about poop, I guarantee you’ll take away loads of fascinating facts as well as many memorable stories about the scientists hunting for them. Readers of Who Gives a Poop? will thoroughly enjoy both the subject matter and the informal approach. One caution: I was peppering my family with random poop facts for days and days after reading this book. You’ve been warned! The footnotes and author’s note are lovely additions, as is the rest of the backmatter. Highly recommended for ages ten and up!

More about the book:

This fun video from the author, sharing the first chapter of Who Gives a Poop?, is not to be missed:

Click here for a fecal photo gallery from the author to go along with Who Gives a Poop?!

For more books by this author, visit https://heatherlmontgomery.com/.
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

 

 

 

*** Disclosure: I received a digital preview copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ***
 

Review: Three Stars in the Night Sky

Zoo Scientists cover

Three Stars in the Night Sky cover

THREE STARS IN THE NIGHT SKY
by Fern Schumer Chapman
Gussie Rose Press/June 6, 2018
Grades 5-8, 56 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

At the age of 12, Gerda Katz fled Nazi Germany and came to America all by herself. Decades before the label gained recognition, she became what’s now known as an “unaccompanied minor.” Gerda’s story of family separation reflects the dislocating trauma, culture shock, and excruciating loneliness many unaccompanied minor immigrants experience. As Gerda becomes an American, she never stops longing to be reunited with her family. Three Stars in the Night Sky illuminates the personal damage of racism in three countries – Nazi Germany, the Dominican Republic, and the United States during the 1930s and 40s — and the emotional devastation of a child coming to a new country alone.

And here are my thoughts:
This was an engaging, up close and personal look at an historical event that is sadly still relevant today for many reasons, including understanding World War II, anti-Semitism, refugees, and the very real impacts of immigration policies. There is also local relevancy here in western Washington state, as Gerda emigrated to Seattle to escape the persecution of Jews in Germany in 1938 and wound up facing the internment of the region’s Japanese-American citizens. I found the story and accompanying images to be interesting as well as informative. The format makes it looks like a picture book, but I would not recommend it for younger readers due to the sensitive topics covered and the way in which they are presented here. Highly recommended for grades 5 and up, however, whether as part of learning more about the World War II era or looking at current events through a historical lens. Gerda’s story will stick with me for some time to come, and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to read about it.
For more books by this author, visit https://fernschumerchapman.com/.
*** Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher as part of judging the CYBILS contest. ***
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Review: Capsized! by Patricia Sutton

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Capsized! cover
Capsized! The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster
by Patricia Sutton
Chicago Review Press (July 1, 2018)
Grades 5-8, 176 pages

Here’s what the publisher says about Capsized!:

A fascinating historical account of courage and tragedy on the Chicago River
On July 24, 1915, the SS Eastland, filled to capacity with 2,500 passengers and crew, capsized in the Chicago River while still moored to the pier. Happy picnic-goers headed for an employee outing across Lake Michigan suddenly found themselves in a struggle for their lives. Trapped belowdecks, crushed by the crowds attempting to escape the rising waters, or hurled into the river from the upper deck of the ship, roughly one-third of the passengers, mostly women and children, perished that day.
The Eastland disaster took more passenger lives than the Titanic and stands today as the greatest loss of life on the Great Lakes. Capsized! details the events leading up to the fateful day and provides a nail-biting, minute-by-minute account of the ship’s capsizing. From the courage of the survivors to the despair of families who lost loved ones, author Patricia Sutton brings to light the stories of ordinary working people enduring the unthinkable.
Capsized! also raises critical-thinking questions for young readers: Why do we know so much about the Titanic’s sinking yet so little about the Eastland disaster? What causes a tragedy to be forgotten and left out of society’s collective memory? And what lessons from this disaster might we be able to apply today?

And what the critics say about Capsized!:

    • “A true disaster story rivetingly told.” —Kirkus Reviews
    • “A badly designed ship, a careless captain, and decks jammed with 2,500 passengers are a recipe for disaster. Patricia Sutton describes the tragic launching of the SS Eastland in a dramatic, riveting narrative filled with the vivid firsthand accounts of those onboard that brings readers along on a harrowing day trip.” —Jim Murphy, author of Newbery Honor titles The Great Fire and An American Plague
    • “A riveting page-turner sure to grab readers’ attention. Patricia Sutton’s well-researched Capsized! will leave you shocked, saddened, and unable to put it down.” —Kate Hannigan, author of The Detective’s Assistant
    • “Through meticulous research and vivid prose, Sutton brings to life the little-known story of the Eastland ship disaster. Based on firsthand accounts of passengers, ship workers and bystanders, readers can experience the people and events that led to the sinking of the fastest steamship on the Great Lakes and its tragic aftermath.” —Claire Rudolf Murphy, author of Gold Rush Women and Marching with Aunt Susan
    • “The narrative-driven account, filled with quotes from individuals and newspapers, historical photos, and trial transcripts, is engaging and accessible…Extensive source notes, which account for every quote, as well as a bibliography, round out this informative, engrossing title.” —Booklist
    • “Capsized! is an excellent book for historical research and highly recommended for both middle and high school libraries.” — KidsReads

And here are my thoughts about Capsized!:

I read this one as part of judging the CYBILS, and I could not put it down! I started reading it one night in bed, intending to get in a quick chapter or two before turning off the light, but I didn’t stop until I’d read every last page.
I’m shocked, and frankly a little appalled, that I’d never heard of this event before. Thankfully, Sutton chose to dedicate herself to telling this little-known story, and she tells it very well. The book itself reads with all the suspense and drama of a well-paced novel, but you can see the research that went into this true story in the included source notes and bibliography. I particularly appreciated how Sutton spelled out the various cumulative reasons for the disaster: there are many important lessons to be learned from this story. I also appreciated the very human connections Sutton built, letting us feel like we really get to know many of the passengers and their actions on that tragic day: there are lessons to be had there as well.
Giving readers both the factual account of an event and its emotional resonance from multiple viewpoints is not easy to do. This book pulls it off; an excellent example of narrative nonfiction and one I expect I’ll be going back to as a mentor text. Highly recommended!
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Review: EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS

Zoo Scientists cover

Eavesdropping on Elephants cover

EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS
by Patricia Newman
Millbrook Press/August 1, 2018
Grades 4-8, 56 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

Can understanding how forest elephants communicate help scientists find ways to protect this vulnerable species? Researcher Katy Pane and others involved with Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project believe it can. Patricia Newman takes readers behind the scenes to see how scientists are making new discoveries about elephant communication and using what they learn to help these majestic animals.
Features: Author/Illustrator biography, Bibliography/further reading, Glossary, Index, Maps, Page Plus, Primary source quotations/images, and Reviewed

And what the critics say:

  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • “An inviting introduction to biologists at work.” —Booklist
  • “…this book does an excellent job of transporting readers and providing a clear, multifaceted picture of African forest elephants…“The more you listen to wildlife, the more your mind opens up to new ideas about why the world is a place worth saving.” VERDICT A great pick for middle school nonfiction collections.” —School Library Journal
  • “Fascinating for earnest conservationists.” —Kirkus Reviews

And here are my thoughts:
Patricia Newman does it again, with another engaging piece of narrative nonfiction! This is a highly engaging read about the less well-known African forest elephants and several of the scientists who study them. The science here–bioacoustics–is quite interesting and the human stories give it a personal touch. I always appreciate when we get to see how scientists really work, and it’s especially rewarding to get a peek at how they collaborate with one another on their separate-but-related research projects. The book also mentions some of the conservation aspects involved and even how kids can participate if they’re so inspired. An added bonus is that most of the scientists in the book happen to be women, which is so important for showing young girls that they can indeed have an important career in the sciences.
Finally, watch the trailer to see–and hear–some of the animals from the book!

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Interview with Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley

#ProtectOurWorld challenge poster

Last week I posted a review of ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE here. Today I’m honored to follow up on that post with an interview with both of the book’s creators, author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley, as part of their blog tour. Enjoy, and be sure to check out the rest of the stop in the blog tour, too!  (See below for a complete list.)
LAT: How did you first become interested in doing a book about zoo scientists in general, and about these three in particular?
Patricia headshotPatricia: When my niece was in fifth grade, she told me about a persuasive essay her teacher assigned. The topic was zoos—are they good or bad? Only the teacher didn’t provide a balanced look—most of the literature she shared with the kids was anti-zoo. As the mother of a zookeeper, I knew my niece—and kids like her—needed the other side of the story. That experience planted the seeds for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue.
Patricia: During my initial research, I learned that zoos tackle conservation using three basic approaches: visitor education; captive breeding and reintroduction programs; and in situ study, or studying wildlife in their native habitats. I searched for several months, conducting brief phone interviews with people at various zoos to find the best match. Not all zoos are large enough to have research departments, and the largest zoos often charge an hourly fee to interview their scientists. Some even charge hefty licensing fees to write about their “intellectual property.” But finally, the pieces slid into place only slightly denting my bank account. I found three charismatic species (orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos) and three scientists willing to speak to me who address the three main ways zoos promote conservation. And this was all before I’d written a word!
Annie headshotAnnie: I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Lincoln Park Zoo connected me with nature on a very deep level. It is open 365 days a year and it is free, so for a Mom with four kids that was important. All summer long we would go to the zoo in the morning and North Avenue Beach in the afternoon. We would get to know the animals. In 5th grade I learned that all of our Great Apes needed protecting. I signed up for a special Behind the Scenes program for students. This program had us working with the scientists, keepers, and access to so many wildlife leaders. Zoos had a great impact on my life and the way I choose to live my life. When Patti approached me to work with her on Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, I was all in. It is vital for kids/teens to connect with nature and conservation and I believe Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will inspire many families to protect our world.
LAT: I so agree. As a zoo lover myself, it was really heartening to read such a thorough, well-researched (and gorgeous!) look at the good work that zoos are doing. Besides me, what kind of reader do you think ZOO SCIENTISTS will appeal to?
Patricia: I write for the kid who asks questions about animals and our world; the kid who wants to protect wildlife; the future scientist; the future writer with a passion for the environment; or the voracious reader. But way at the back of my mind, I write the kinds of books I would have liked to read as a kid.
Annie: Similar to Plastic Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this book is targeted to 3-8 grade students. I have had pre-sale copies and shared it with many… and young and old truly love this book. Every time I read it, I am even more inspired into action. It will appeal to nature lovers, zoo enthusiasts, scientific minds, and anyone who wants to learn more about our world. More important, I think anyone who reads Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will want to help our world!
LAT: I think it’s hard to read this book (or Plastic Ahoy!) and not come away with an enhanced passion for science, the environment, and doing what we can to help. What was your favorite part of making ZOO SCIENTISTS?
Patricia: I love to get to know the scientists. They always inspire and amaze me, and I hope they will inspire young readers to follow in their footsteps. I keep in touch with the scientists I interview to find out where science takes them and how their research grows and develops.
Annie: Getting kissed by Maku, a black rhino!
Annie: My favorite part of making this book was traveling together with Patricia and being able to be a part of all of the interviews so that I knew the kinds of images (both photo and video) that would be important to tell the story. My favorite trip was of course traveling to Chicago and to document black rhinos and Dr. Rachel Santymire at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Currently I live in Seattle, so to be able to create a book featuring a scientist from a zoo that helped shape who I am, and one where I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours of my youth was very exciting. We got a tour of the back area of the rhino exhibit and then worked with Maku’s keeper in the exhibit so that I could get some great photos. It’s the shoot we did that the cover of the book came from. During the shoot, the keeper would work with him and feed him snacks. She let me give him one and the next thing I knew Maku kissed my hand.
LAT: That is so cool! It sounds like it really was a treat for both of you to work on this project. What was the hardest part of the making ZOO SCIENTISTS, and how did you deal with that?
Patricia: For me, the hardest part was lining up the three zoos. After the zoos, the animals, and the scientists fell into the place, the rest of the book was a breeze in comparison!
Annie: Time is the hardest part of making any book. Shooting with Jeff Baughman at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was very challenging photographically on many levels. We were given permission to shoot at the breeding facility, but there were many points to consider. Their main goal is to breed black-footed ferrets to reintroduce into the wild. BFFs are nocturnal, solitary animals that do not do well with stress. They also need dim lighting. So not knowing any of this in advance, I had to work very efficiently in low light to capture these charismatic animals.
LAT: I can certainly understand the difficulty of the research and logistics to line up the three zoos and their projects, Patricia, and I’m so glad it worked out. But I can’t even imagine how you came up with such great photos in that kind of environment, Annie. Hats off to both of you! During your research, did anything surprise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for making ZOO SCIENTISTS?
Patricia: I didn’t come across any surprises that made me change course, but I’m always surprised by the coolness of the science and how scientists solve problems. The story of black-footed ferrets being saved from the brink of extinction, not once but twice, is truly astonishing!
Annie: We feature Meredith Bastian from Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. We were able to interview her while Patricia and I were in Washington, D.C., accepting a Green Earth Book Award for Plastic Ahoy! We had a very limited time with the scientist and only were granted permission the day before we arrived. In our allotted one hour, we interviewed her, but had no time to photograph her with the orangutans nor did we have access on a level that we were given at the other zoos with the animals. It was also a very cloudy/rainy day so the orangutans were not very cooperative! Because I knew we needed to get orangutan images for the book from other zoos, I started hanging out at my local zoo in Seattle, the Woodland Park Zoo, to capture images. In addition, I was traveling to Australia and made a point to go to the Melbourne Zoo. Their orangutan exhibit is phenomenal and really helps educate people on how farming palm oil can be so destructive to our environment.
LAT: I was astonished by the story of the BFFs, too. And, as a Seattleite myself, I love visiting the orangutans at the Woodland Park Zoo. How neat to know that they are pictured in ZOO SCIENTISTS! I’m always curious about other writers’ and illustrators’ (including photographers’!) research processes. Can you tell us about yours? Did you plot the basic outline first, then fill in the blanks with research? Or did you immerse yourself in the research first, then feel your way into the structure? I see you did a lot of email and phone interviews—did you have to go back and forth to complete the stories? Were there any fun facts that got cut that you were sad to see go?
Patricia: When I write for Millbrook Press, I have to submit a formal proposal which provides a basic overview of the idea, describes the chapters, and gives the acquisition committee an idea of where this book would fit in the market. In order to complete the proposal, I conduct short informational interviews with the scientists by phone. During these interviews, I try to find out the broad strokes of their story and whether they are willing to commit the necessary time to lengthy in-person interviews, clarification questions, and vetting the final manuscript. Once I have a scientist’s buy-in, I can craft the proposal and hopefully give my editor some idea what my narrative thread might be.
Patricia: When the acquisitions committee gave me the go-ahead on Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, Annie and I made three trips to the three different zoos to interview the scientists and photograph/film them at work. We braved a spring blizzard, backed away from a charging rhino, and laughed when a chattering black-footed ferret told us exactly what he thought of our intrusion on his space!
Patricia: And as for cutting fun facts, never! I re-word and re-imagine before I cut anything fun. The writing was all about the fun. Why wouldn’t I share that with readers at every opportunity?
Annie: Patricia and I traveled together for all of the interviews. She shared with me many of the papers the scientists had written and we dug deep into who they were. Being able to document with photos and videos always takes research because the more you know about your subject, the more knowledge you can bring to your creative approach. Once the first draft was written, I knew I had to document many other animals. At this time, I became a zoo stalker with my camera. I spent weeks at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle getting to know the animals so that I could look for special moments. A photographer also has to wait for light for the subjects. Early morning and later afternoons in the fall gives you a golden light.
LAT: Oh, I love getting that insight into the process. What was your larger goal, i.e. what were you trying to give readers of ZOO SCIENTISTS as a takeaway?
Patricia: A Senegalese forestry engineer by the name of Baba Dioum presented a paper at a 1968 meeting of the IUCN. In his paper he said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” When I write books like Zoo Scientists to the Rescue or Sea Otter Heroes or Plastic, Ahoy!, I want readers to come away with a newfound respect for our connection to the natural world. Our habits matter because they create ripples across the globe. So, whether we conserve energy to reduce climate change, learn to appreciate the role an apex predator plays in its ecosystem, reduce the amount of single-use plastic in our lives, or buy products that use sustainably-sourced palm oil, we choose to create positive ripples that help preserve the breathtaking abundance of biodiversity on our planet.
Annie: When photographing/filming I always want to document and help viewers see what a writer/script needs to tell a story. Zoo Scientists to the Rescue captures what people are doing to help save endangered species and their environments. I’m hoping that all of our readers feel inspired into action to help protect our world.
LAT: Well said, and I do think you succeeded. In addition to teaching something to our readers, I believe every book teaches us something new–about the world, about
ourselves, or about the craft of creating. What have you learned as a result of making ZOO SCIENTISTS?

Patricia: Every time I write a book about an aspect of the environment, I’m reminded that scientists find new connections all the time between humans and the plants and animals that share our planet. I guess that’s job security for me, but it’s also a wake-up call for young readers. Without a clean ocean will there be enough food to eat or oxygen to breathe? Without predators like black-footed ferrets or sea otters, how will their respective ecosystems thrive? And without large animals like orangutans and black rhinos, will the smaller animals also disappear? Despite what our current administration seems to think, humans are not “entitled” to use and abuse the world’s natural resources without giving back. We have to conserve for the future.
Annie: Zoos are really important places in our world for conservation, education, inspiration and so much more. If the habitat of the orangutan disappears because of our need for palm oil, the orangutans disappear. If black rhinos are killed to extinction because of poachers, then the human population has failed to protect the animals in need of our protection. There is so much destruction happening all around needing to be documented, shared, and reversed. I’ve learned we all need to raise our voices together and do everything possible to protect our world.
Annie: Climate change is real and our ocean is the great regulator of our planet. The weather affects all the regions of the world. People always look at our planet from a people point of view… and I have always looked out for the animals. We told the stories of these three animals and their environment through the lens of people helping them… while other people are trying to destroy the very same animals.
Annie: This is the second title Patricia and I co-created with editor Carol Hinz and entire Lerner Publishing design/marketing crew. It reinforced how much I truly appreciate the team effort to take a book from your imagination into one you can hold in your hands and share with others. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” With this book, we are hoping to inspire people into action to protect our world!
LAT: Thank you for sharing those important lessons with us. What are you both working on next?
Patricia: Annie and I have are mulling over a few possibilities for our next book, but you can bet we’ll come up with something. In the meantime, I have two books coming out in 2018: a picture book called Neema’s Reason to Smile (illustrated by the talented Mehrdokht Amini) which tells the story of a Kenyan girl who yearns to be more, and another middle-grade nonfiction science book called Eavesdropping on Elephants which follows scientists who study forest elephants simply by listening to them. I’m extremely excited about both of these titles because they held kids become global citizens in very different ways.
Annie: Although Zoo Scientists to the Rescue officially launches in October, we still have so much to do! We just finished our trailer and are hoping schools and organizations will welcome us to come inspire and speak. We are planning a 30-Day Challenge for everyone to do one thing every day that will help #ProtectOurWorld
Annie: My Uncle Al always said, “Annie, have your fingers in 12 different project ideas…” As I’m writing this, I am on my way to film whales in Tonga. Three days ago, I was in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Bellingham, WA, documenting the environmental disaster of the Cooke Salmon Farm net catastrophe which released 300,000 farmed Atlantic Salmon into the Puget Sound/Salish Sea. In June I was in the Arctic Circle. And I’m also laying the groundwork on a larger project I’d like to work on with Patricia.
LAT: These projects all sound so exciting! I’m looking forward to hearing more about them all when the time comes. Is there anything you wish I would’ve asked you but didn’t? 
Patricia and Annie: You were very thorough, Laurie, and asked us great questions! Thank you so much for participating in the blog tour. We are very grateful to you for wanting to write about us and share our story with your readers. Perhaps we can close with a statement:

We truly hope our story and reading the book Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will inspire others to act. The orangutans, black rhinos, and black-footed ferrets would not be with us today if it were not for people giving them a voice. Yet, they are endangered because of people. We all need to raise our voices together, take an action every day, and share with your friends, family, and colleagues what you are doing and why. We need to work together to #ProtectOurWorld.

LAT: I think that’s a great way to close. Thank you so much, Patricia and Annie, for answering my questions and for your dedication to bringing great books like ZOO SCIENTISTS into the world. I am sure YOUR actions will have many ripple effects around the world. 
Catch up and follow along with the rest of the blog tour here:

To download posters with information about the 30-day #ProtectOurWorld journal challenge, click here.

#ProtectOurWorld challenge poster #ProtectOurWorld challenge journal

Thanks for visiting!
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Review: ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE

Zoo Scientists cover

Zoo Scientists cover

ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE
by Patricia Newman, photographs by Annie Crawley
Millbrook Press/August 1, 2017
Grades 4-8, 64 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

Zoos take care of animals and welcome visitors of all ages, but that’s not all zoos do. Author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley bring readers behind the scenes at three zoos to meet scientists working to save endangered animals.
Meredith Bastian’s experiences studying wild orangutans help educate both zoo visitors and the zoo workers who care for captive orangutans. Jeff Baughman breeds black-footed ferrets and reintroduces them into the wild. And Rachel Santymire examines poop from black rhinoceroses at the zoo and in their natural habitat to benefit all black rhinos. Find out how zoo scientists are helping us learn more about these remarkable, at-risk species before it’s too late!
Features: Author Biography, Bibliography, Full-Color Photographs, Further Reading, Glossary, Index, Maps, Primary Source Quotations, Websites

The professional reviewers liked it:

“Many kids are familiar with zoos, but there’s much more to these attractions than an opportunity to see animals up close. Newman shines a light on the important work zoo scientists do to aid conservation and contribute important research, both at zoo labs and in the wild. This engagingly written book focuses on three scientists and their work protecting and researching orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinoceroses, respectively. Each scientist describes his or her background, research in the wild, challenges to conservation efforts, and how zoo labs help them do their work. Photos of the scientists in the field, as well as their animal research subjects, enlivens the already fascinating material. Newman clearly describes the conditions that led to each species becoming endangered and encourages readers to think carefully about their own actions in light of threats to wildlife. Though the book appears slim, the content is fairly dense, so this will likely appeal more to middle-grade readers. Hand this to kids who can’t get enough of the Scientists in the Field series.” —Booklist

“In this incredibly informative book, readers learn about three zoo scientists who are working to save three species (orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and wild black rhinos) using a variety of methods, from conservation education to breeding programs. Newman also includes ideas on how students can contribute to conservation efforts, such as reducing palm oil usage. Various zoos and organizations that focus on conservation are also mentioned; for example, biobanks, where scientists freeze the sperm and eggs of various species in order to protect it from a catastrophic loss. The photographs show the animals as well as the scientists and effectively enhance the information presented. Several charts, including one comparing apes and monkeys, add a deeper level of understanding. Maps of the original and current habitats of the creatures are helpful in visualizing how the earth has changed over the years. A great book for research or for students interested in conservation. School Library Journal

And here are my thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. As the Booklist review above says, the book is quite slim, so I was not expecting to learn as much as I did once I cracked the cover! On the one hand, I didn’t want to put the book down, because I was so engrossed in the stories and information. On the other, it was nicely broken up into the three separate stories following three separate scientists and their efforts to help three specific species, so it was easy to pick up where I’d left off when I was forced to walk away for a bit. The science is fascinating, the human stories are compelling, and the gorgeous photography brings it all to life right before your eyes. I’ve been ambivalent about zoos my whole life. I love animals, so I love being able to see them… but I also want them to live as happily and naturally as possible. This book helped me see a different side of zoos that I have heard about but never really had a chance to explore in much detail or depth, the conservation aspect. I admire the scientists profiled in this book and the work that they’re doing, and I am grateful to Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley for sharing their stories with us.
Finally, watch the trailer to see some of the people and animals from the book!

Author interview with Sarah Albee

A few weeks ago, I reviewed POISON: DEADLY DEEDS, PERILOUS PROFESSIONS, AND MURDEROUS MEDICINES, by Sarah Albee. Today, I’m excited to host Sarah for an interview with the author! Read on to learn more about how she wrote this particular book and much, much more…


LAT: Welcome, Sarah, and thanks for agreeing to answer my questions!
LAT: You know how much I love your new book, POISON. The whole time I was reading it, though, I kept wondering… how did you first become interested in writing about poisons?
Sarah Albee author photoSA: I’ve been fascinated with poison ever since I was a young kid, from the first fairy tales that were read to me, to stories that I read myself as I got older. Snow White, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare—I wanted to know if those poisonings from literature were possible in real life, and if they were, I wanted to know what was going on at the molecular level of a person who’d been poisoned. The idea of writing a book about poison occurred to me a few years ago, as I was researching my book, Why’d They Wear That? Associating poison with fashion may sound odd, but my interest was piqued as I learned more about how arsenic became wildly popular in the 19 th century—it was everywhere—at every apothecary shop, in arsenical green fabric, in paint pigments, even in edible arsenic complexion wafers (!). The history of poison just seemed like a perfect way to link so many things that intrigue me—mysteries, detective stories, human passion, alchemy, art, politics, social history, and the history of medicine.
LAT: And that linking of so many different topics is one of the biggest reasons I enjoyed reading it so much! Besides geeky nonfiction authors, what kind of readers do you think this book will appeal to?
SA: I hope it will have what publishers call “crossover appeal,” which for me would be kids who think they prefer to read only fiction. I personally love knowing the “back story,” no matter what genre I’m reading. I find that I still ask myself: “Could that actually happen in real life?” I hope the book will appeal to science-oriented readers, history lovers, and to kids who love mysteries!
LAT: I think it will. Your passion for the subject comes through on every page. What was your favorite part of the book to research and/or write?
SA: At the risk of sounding hokey, every part of the research was fascinating. Poisons in the ancient world, poisons in the Renaissance, poisons in the 19th century and the rise of forensics—I mean, there was literally never a dull moment. I loved visiting a poison plant garden and seeing in person all the poisonous plants I’d been reading and writing about. I loved talking to museum curators and getting special, private access to amazing collections of bones and body organs and
artifacts.
LAT: Sounds like fun! What was the hardest part of the research and/or writing for you, and how did you deal with that?
SA: The hardest part was figuring out how to narrow down my topic. Early drafts of the book were, well, in need of a firm editorial hand. Luckily I have wonderful beta readers and a fantastic editor, and with varying degrees of gentleness and candor, they informed me that I needed to cut, cut, cut. Thank god for editors.
LAT: Hear, hear! I can relate to that one. Did anything during the research phase surprise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
SA: Yessirree. See above re having to narrow down my topic. In an earlier draft, I’d included a pretty extensive history of anesthesia. It is SO COOL. Preparing a patient for surgery in ancient times ranged from having the patient inhale fumes from a soporific sponge soaked in mandrake and opium, to bonking him over the head with a mallet. Which unfortunately led to many patients never waking up. The discovery of ether and chloroform totally transformed the way surgeons performed operations. But my editor and I finally decided we needed to cut most of that out, which pained me as much as bodily cuts without anesthesia. (Ha ha, not really!) Although many types of poisons were used as both analgesics and anesthetics, I had to acknowledge that they didn’t quite fit in a book about nefarious poisons. (Side note: I now have the most profound respect for anesthesiologists.)
LAT: Perhaps it’ll come in handy for another book, somewhere down the line. I can image you collected a TON of interesting information along the way. How do you manage all of your research for a book like this? What’s your system? (Tell me, please, because mine feels woefully amateurish!)
SA: Ha! I wish I could tell you that I’m super systematic about my research, but every time I begin a new project it’s a big, blobby mess. For this book, I began by reading widely—biographies about the Borgias, Roman emperors, Catherine de Medici, Empress Wu. I read early medical journals, up-to-the-minute scholarly articles, and primary sources like travelogues and diaries. I took an online course in chemistry, and another in forensics. I interviewed tons of people, and became a pest to my science-teacher friends (“explain to me again what an alkaloid is?”). The one godsend was I knew what my structure would be—the book would be chronological, from ancient times to the present, so I was able to lump my topics and my poisoners/victims into their respective historical eras.
POISON cover
LAT: Wow, that’s an impressive research list! Did you do all the photo research for the book too? Can you tell us a bit about that process?
SA: The first time I did my own image research, many books ago, I was overwhelmed, and totally clueless about how to go about it. Image research is a steep learning curve, but now, many books later, I absolutely love that phase of the process. I did a couple of guest posts on Melissa Stewart’s blog about image research for students here, and for professional writers here, if people would like a bit more detail.
LAT: You’ve helped me come up to speed in that area as well, and I’m eternally grateful for your generous advice!
LAT: I think every book teaches us something new, about the world, about ourselves, or about the craft of writing. What have you learned as a result of writing this book?
SA: I try not to get too political in my books or on social media, but the more research I have done about the horrors of poisons and environmental toxins people used to be exposed to, the more horrified I have grown by the current trend in our country to roll back hard-fought regulations for clean air and clean water, and to defang agencies such as the FDA and the EPA. When you know the history of the way things used to be, you shudder at what could happen once again.
LAT: I had the same thoughts when I was reading your book. I’m glad that myself, and all the other readers out there, will have this broadened perspective going forward.
LAT: What other writers do you look up to and why?
SA: I have so many kidlit writers that I look up to and love, both fiction and nonfiction—but this answer would be way too long if I tried to list all of them. So I’ll stick to just a few writers of adult books I admire. Mary Roach is a favorite of mine. I love her sense of humor and her offbeat science topics—I like to think that our missions are aligned. I love P.G. Wodehouse. I love historians who can write, and write well. It’s like a breath of fresh air when you find a scholarly, well-researched book that’s also beautifully written for a reader’s enjoyment, with grace and style and wit.
LAT: What are you working on now?
SA: I’m working on several projects right now and I wish there were more hours in the day because I’m so excited about all of them! I have a book about the human/dog relationship coming out next March with National Geographic, called Dog Days of History. And I’m working on a book that’s a collection of quirky biographies, as well as a series of biographies for much younger readers, and a new American history series for upper elementary kids, which will probably be called “What Were They Thinking?
LAT: Gosh, you’re busy! Is there anything you wish I would’ve asked you but didn’t?
SA: You’ve done a darn good job covering the bases, Laurie. But hmmm. Kids often ask me what my favorite part of my job is. And I joke about how great it is to be able to work at my bed-desk, but honestly, one of the best parts of this job is when I visit schools, and meet the kids I work for. Let’s face it: for a nonfiction writer, fiction can be stiff competition, not to mention the myriad screen-time options vying for kids’ attention. So my goal is to write fascinating, entertaining, and accurate books that kids choose to read. I want them to see how amazing history can be.
LAT: Well said. I feel exactly the same way. I’m so glad you could visit, Sarah, and thank you for answering all of my questions!


You can find out more about Sarah Albee at her website, and be sure to check out POISON: DEADLY DEEDS, PERILOUS PROFESSIONS, AND MURDEROUS MEDICINES!

Review: POISON by Sarah Albee

POISON interior

POISON cover

POISON: DEADLY DEEDS, PERILOUS PROFESSIONS, AND MURDEROUS MEDICINES
by Sarah Albee
Penguin Random House/September 05, 2017
Middle Grade (8-12), 192 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

Science geeks and armchair detectives will soak up this non-lethal, humorous account of the role poisons have played in human history. Perfect for STEM enthusiasts!
For centuries, people have been poisoning one another—changing personal lives and the course of empires alike.
From spurned spouses and rivals, to condemned prisoners like Socrates, to endangered emperors like Alexander the Great, to modern-day leaders like Joseph Stalin and Yasser Arafat, poison has played a starring role in the demise of countless individuals. And those are just the deliberate poisonings. Medical mishaps, greedy “snake oil” salesmen and food contaminants, poisonous Prohibition, and industrial toxins also impacted millions.
Part history, part chemistry, part whodunit, Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines traces the role poisons have played in history from antiquity to the present and shines a ghoulish light on the deadly intersection of human nature . . . and Mother Nature.

The professional reviewers have weighed in favorably:

“[Albee’s] light tone makes this morbid, well-researched study a sinister indulgence.“—Booklist starred review

A compelling, entertaining, and informative introduction to a sinister aspect of human history.” Kirkus Reviews
“There’s plenty of material here to delight fans of [Georgia] Bragg’s popular How They Croaked.” —The Bulletin
Ideal for readers, including reluctant ones, who delight in the science and scare factor of poisons or grotesque medicine.” —School Library Journal

And here are my thoughts:
This book is deliciously dark fun! Sarah Albee’s POISON is the perfect mix of science, history, mystery, and entertainment, and readers of many different genres will be thoroughly engaged by this book. I know I was! From ancient times to today (and beyond!), Albee shows us how poisons–both natural and man-made–have affected humans lives and culture. The facts are shocking and fascinating, but broken down in a way that makes them accessible. There’s also a ton of humor to balance the heavy subject matter, with puns and sarcasm galore, especially in the titles and captions. And all of it is tied together with a compelling design featuring sidebars, pullouts, photos, and illustrations. There are also some serious nonfiction features, including a table of contents, author’s note, acknowledgements, notes, selected bibliography, research guide, index, and more. A highly recommended middle-grade nonfiction!
Here are some interior views to give you a better sense of what you can expect:
POISON interiorPOISON interior 2 POISON interior 3 POISON interior 4POISON interior 5POISON interior 6
And yes, if you’re wondering, this review is perfect for Labor Day! One of my favorite features of the book was the “Nice Work if You Can Survive It” sidebars, which told of various professions throughout the ages where people were actually poisoned by their jobs (did you know mad hatters were mad because of the chemicals used for felting?). Sobering, to say the least. And it made me even more grateful for regulations that protect workers from unscrupulous business owners!
Be sure to check out Sarah’s other great books, too!
Why'd They Wear That? cover BUGGED cover POOP HAPPENED cover

Review: SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL

Surviving Middle School cover

Surviving Middle School: Navigating the Halls, Riding the Social Roller Coaster, and Unmasking the Real You
by Luke Reynolds
Aladdin/Beyond Words (July 5, 2016)
Ages 10-14

192 pages

Here’s what the publisher has to say: 

In this hilarious guide full of honest, real-life experiences, veteran teacher Luke Reynolds skillfully and humorously shows kids how to not only survive, but thrive and even enjoy the wild adventure that is middle school.
Middle grade series like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries bring an authentic voice and vision to fiction about middle schoolers. Now, for the first time a nonfiction guide to middle school offers that same funny and relatable voice, while skillfully teaching life lessons to not just help kids find their footing during the tough years between elementary and high school, but to find the joy in their new adventures and challenges.
Author and teacher Luke Reynolds uses irreverent humor, genuine affection for middle schoolers, and authenticity that bubbles over as he ties real-life experiences from his own time in middle school to the experiences he has from his many years as a teacher.
Covering topics like bullying, peer pressure, grades, dealing with difficult parents, and love and romance, this rare book reaches kids at a deeper level during an age when they are often considered too young to appreciate it. Readers will learn to find their own voice, begin to explore their genuine identity, and definitely laugh out loud along the way.

And Kirkus said this: 

While playful black-and-white cartoon illustrations and doodles add to the zaniness, the messages are worthy and clear: be yourself; practice empathy; work hard; hug your parents. A list of recommended books and movies is appended.For those approaching or in the scrum of middle school, a positive reminder that the perfect middle school experience does not exist. (Nonfiction. 10-14) (Kirkus Reviews 4/15/16)

I’ll just add…
Oh, how I wish I’d had this book when I was entering middle school… or high school, or college, or my 20s or 30s! There are a lot of valuable life lessons crammed into this little volume, and you can call me a slow learner, but I didn’t figure most of this stuff out until I was well into adulthood. And, even now, I can still use some good reminders from time to time!
It’s not only filled with excellent advice, but it also has highly relatable anecdotes (for the tween set, anyway), interesting exercises to help personalize every lesson, and tons of middle-school humor, so it never comes off as dry or preachy. I think it has enough variety that it will appeal to all kinds of tween readers. 
I believe this book should be required reading for tweens everywhere (and their teachers and parents!), and it would make an excellent gift, too! 

Nonfiction Monday: Courage & Defiance blog tour and interview

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Facts First! Nonfiction MondayAs you can probably tell by my books Be a Changemaker and Emmanuel’s Dream, I love writing about heroes and changemakers. It should be no surprise, then, that I love reading about them, too. My favorite kinds of stories are those about ordinary people who acted with extraordinary strength, conviction, and courage, and the book I just finished reading is full of people doing just that. In Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson (Scholastic Press, August 2015), the author has clearly done a great deal of careful research to bring us narrative nonfiction about the WWII resistance movement in Denmark from the perspective of some of those who took part in it. It’s a gripping tale of adventure and suspense, and one that has rarely been told.

Deborah has been interviewed on this blog before, and I’m super excited to welcome her back once again as part of the Courage and Defiance blog tour. I hope you enjoy the interview!
LAT: I know I thoroughly enjoyed this book, Deborah. What kind of young reader do you think Courage & Defiance will appeal to? What other books might be read-alikes? 
DH: I visit schools all over the country and love to ask students what they’re reading. While fantasy and science fiction are always popular, I’m usually surprised by the number of students – girls and boys – who tell me they like to read about history and like nonfiction. There are definitely kids who read everything they can get their hands on topics such as the Titanic and World War II, but I think readers who enjoyed Number the Stars by Lois Lowry or The Diary of Anne Frank will also enjoy Courage & Defiance.
LAT: This is a story that many of us probably haven’t heard before. Why do you think that might be?
DH: I think perhaps that here in the U.S., we’re most naturally interested in stories that take place after America entered World War II on December 7, 1941. (As it happens, my next nonfiction book about submarines in the Pacific war begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor and will be out in 2016 for the 75th anniversary.) While I did find a number of adult nonfiction books about the experience of Danes during the German occupation, which began on April 9, 1940, almost all were scholarly titles or of interest primarily to historians (including a 600-page book about the SOE in Denmark). I feel fortunate that I was able to find as much as I did in English, but I am sure there is much more available in Danish. We were able to access the photo archives of the Museum of Danish Resistance.

Hopkinson-headshot
Deborah Hopkinson

LAT: During the research phase of Courage & Defiance, what discoveries did you come across that made you feel like you’d struck gold? Was there anything in the research that came as a surprise?
DH: At author visits, I tell students that my favorite part of writing is the research. And since I knew little when I began several years ago, I felt like I was discovering something new and incredible at every corner. Probably the most significant discovery I made was finding a memoir in English entitled A Letter to My Descendents by Niels Skov. Niels, whom I later had the privilege to meet, came to the U.S. after the war, where he received a Ph.D. and became a college professor. His personal account was so incredibly lively and vibrant – which matched his personality, even at age ninety-four. To my surprise, he had been deported to a German labor camp at the same time as another activist whose story I tell, but they did not meet. It made me realize just how many incredible stories there are in history, and how easily they are lost.
LAT: This one may be tricky, but if you can fathom a guess… What do you think it was about the Danes that made them able to resist the Germans and support their Jewish countrymen so effectively? 
DH: Well, I am not sure I am qualified to say, but what comes across in all the first-person accounts I found was that ordinary people shared an unwavering sense of human decency, a love of country, and a commitment to doing the right thing – even at great cost. It seems to me that as the war went on, the confidence and belief that people had in democratic values helped to give them the courage to take risks.
LAT: In the book, you asked Niels what his advice to young people today would be. Now that you’ve done all this research and written such a fantastic book, what is YOUR advice to young people today?
DH: While young people in America now may not be faced with life-and-death decisions as Danish citizens were in the 1940s, we all grapple with difficult personal choices. So perhaps I’d simply give the same advice I’ve often told my own two children: make good choices and do good work in the world. And, of course, I have to add: keep reading!
LAT: That’s great advice, Deborah. Thanks so much for visiting today! 
For other stops on the Courage and Defiance blog tour please check deborahhopkinson.com.

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